Apprenticeships: Over a quarter of brands blame time pressures for slow uptake

As National Apprenticeship Week kicks off today (6 February), Marketing Week reveals just under a fifth of brands don’t see the value in hiring marketing apprentices.

Career & Salary Survey 2023Over half of marketers (54.3%) work for a brand with no marketing apprenticeship, as time and a lack of resources are blamed for sluggish adoption across the industry.

According to Marketing Week’s exclusive 2023 Career and Salary Survey of more than 3,000 marketers, a third (33.6%) work for a company running a dedicated marketing apprenticeship, while 12.1% are unsure if their business runs such a scheme or not.

When asked why their company has failed to hire any marketing apprentices, more than a quarter (26.8%) say such programmes are deemed to require too much time and resource to maintain effectively, while just under a fifth (19.8%) say their business does not currently see the value.

A further 8.2% of the sample say their company believes it is too complicated to develop an apprenticeship programme, while 6.9% claim they cannot get buy-in at the highest level for such an initiative.

Other reasons given for the lack of investment in apprenticeships include that the business is too small, there are apprentices in the wider team or the topic is not discussed.

The figures are a marginal improvement on the 2022 edition of the survey, while found 57.9% of marketers work for a brand with no marketing apprenticeship and 21.2% say their company does not currently see the value in such programmes.

We’re all suffering from a greater number of vacancies in our industry. We can’t find the talent, but the talent is out there.

Alessandra Bellini, Tesco and Advertising Association

Returning to the 2023 survey, 56.9% of marketers in SMEs (250 employees and under) say their firm does not run a marketing apprenticeship programme, slightly higher than their peers in large organisations (51.1%).

B2B marketers are more likely to work for a business that does not operate an apprenticeship scheme (55.5%), than their peers in B2C companies (49.3%). However, the survey suggests organisations mixing B2B and B2C operations are the least likely (57.6%) to run marketing apprenticeships.

Regardless of organisation size, or whether they operate in B2B or B2C, a lack of time and resources emerges as the key reason given by firms for failing to hire marketing apprentices.

According to Department of Education figures, between 2020 and 2021 there were only 1,220 apprentices working in advertising and market research companies, spread across just 1.7% of companies and representing only 0.6% of total employment.

One marketer on why being an apprentice feels like ‘hitting the jackpot’

The IPA estimates that in 2020 its members contributed upwards of £6m to the Apprenticeship Levy, which equates to 0.5% of an employer’s annual wage bill and only applies to businesses with a total annual salary bill of more than £3m.

To recoup the benefits of the levy, IPA members would need to hire around 1,000 new apprentices each year, based on the cost per apprentice undertaking a junior creative apprenticeship (£6,000). However, IPA Census data suggests only 150 apprentices were employed in 2020.

On a national level, the slow adoption of apprenticeships is contributing to money being wasted, as unused levy expires after 24 months and is returned to HMRC. In 2021 alone more than £250m in unspent levy went back to the Treasury, which could have funded over 25,000 apprenticeships.

Removing the barriers

The characteristics of the 2023 Career and Salary Survey sample show a clear bias towards university education within marketing.

Some 49.4% of respondents have a bachelor’s or honours degree, while 14.4% have a post-graduate diploma and 22.1% hold a master’s degree. This compares to just 1.5% of the sample for whom an apprenticeship is their highest level of qualification.

Despite the lack of apprentices in the marketing workforce and the fact businesses often fail to recognise their value, marketers can see the benefits.

Most respondents (73.6%) either agree or strongly agree marketing apprenticeships are a good route into the industry. This number rises to 78.3% of marketers who identify as coming from a working-class background.

When asked why apprenticeships offer a good route into the industry, 71.3% of the total sample say such programmes enable marketers to learn on the job, while 52.5% believe they expand the talent pool entering the industry.

Half (50.4%) of respondents say apprenticeships provide the opportunity to upskill at work, while 45.3% see such schemes as a way of increasing diversity of thought. A further 40.1% describe apprenticeships as offering an alternative route to university.

The Career and Salary Survey results chime with Chartered Institute of Marketing statistics, shared exclusively with Marketing Week, which found 97% of CMO75 respondents think a marketing apprenticeship is useful for those looking to enter the industry.

However, barriers to adoption remain, with the size or structure of a team being cited by 58%, alongside time restraints (31%) and budget constraints (25%). Only 13% of the CIM’s UK respondents access the Apprenticeship Levy to cover the cost and (26%) don’t use the levy at all.

Career & Salary Survey 2023The Advertising Association’s Talent Taskforce has made driving the successful uptake of apprenticeship schemes a key goal for 2023. In its research, published in January in combination with UK advertising thinktank Credos, the AA cites multiple pain points for employers in the adoption of apprenticeships across the advertising and marketing sectors.

These issues include the length of training, the need for apprentices to spend 20% of their working week out of the office and the difficulty in transferring their apprenticeship to another employer.

AA president and Tesco chief customer officer, Alessandra Bellini, points out that despite marketing’s broader focus on skills and training, uptake of apprenticeships remains sluggish compared to other industries. The AA found that while brands regard apprenticeships as a great way to increase diversity and representation, schemes are often seen as too rigid for the industry’s needs.

“There are many technical elements to that, but in essence the industry would like to see a more flexible approach in how the funds are allocated to the trainers,” Bellini notes.

“Also, the ability to move lanes within the broader marketing and advertising industry. The ability to look at different timelines. They are very long at the moment.”

While it continues to lobby government to make marketing apprenticeships “fit for purpose”, the AA is encouraged by the words of Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan, who in her keynote address at the joint AA, IPA and ISBA LEAD 2023 conference in January identified closing the skills gaps as the “most important priority” for the marketing and advertising industry.

Career & Salary Survey 2023Reflecting on the Career and Salary Survey statistics, the AA is keen to reposition apprenticeships as an investment, rather than a cost. For that reason, the organisation is calling on companies running successful programmes to share their case studies, the intention being to create a ‘how to’ guide inspiring others to make better use of the levy.

“What will help is showing the value created. We’re all suffering from a greater number of vacancies in our industry. We can’t find the talent, but the talent is out there. This is a way of getting great talent, developing and training them,” says Bellini.

“We want to show through the case studies the value. It will be about diversity of thinking. Challenging ways of looking at problems. We’re all in the business of problem solving and creativity. By sharing the value of the case studies, we can make it even more worthwhile.”

She explains apprenticeship schemes are “very valued” at Tesco, the UK’s largest private employer. Currently apprentices joining the supermarket complete rotations around the business, which includes a period in the customer team. The consensus within the business is, however, that greater flexibility is needed around how levy funds are allocated.

Ultimately, the AA wants to remove apprenticeships from the “difficult pile” and for brands to see the real value, Bellini adds.

“We [Tesco] would like to use apprenticeships a lot more, for a lot more functions and teams, so we are very much in the space of we truly believe in it,” she explains. “We’ve seen some success, but we could do a lot more if we learn from other companies and also find more flexible ways of implementation.”

Demystifying apprenticeships

Head of innovation at Ipsos, Victoria West, is another firm believer in the value of apprenticeships. The market research firm took on its first cohort of four Market Research Society (MRS) apprentices in December 2021.

The apprentices were spread across three divisions, including two in the innovation team. One of these recruits was Level 4 market research apprentice Abbie Bradley, who last year told Marketing Week about her experience getting stuck into the job.

West describes this initial cohort of apprentices as a breath of fresh air, offering a level of energy and enthusiasm which convinced Ipsos to hire a further 12 MRS apprentices over the past three months across five different divisions. West now has five apprentices in her team and insists there are more to come.

“It’s just been wonderful. They’re energetic, they bring so much day to day into the physical environment and the virtual environment with hybrid working. They haven’t found that to be a limitation, even being at the earlier stages in their careers and not having had the experience before of working in an office environment,” she explains.

Career & Salary Survey 2023The original cohort of two apprentices are 14 months into their 18-month apprenticeship, on completion of which they will be promoted to research executives. It takes graduates 12 months to reach that level.

West notes, however, that if 80% of the apprentices’ time is working with Ipsos and 20% is towards their qualification, on that basis an 18-month course at 80% is in effect a 14-month programme and therefore offers a “real fast track”.

Ipsos benefited from being able to work closely with the MRS to design the programme and ensure it was a bespoke fit for the business. Before taking on the latest tranche of apprentices West worked with other divisions within Ipsos, sharing her advice on different aspects of the apprenticeship, such as how to use the 20% learning time to best effect. Being able to demonstrate success internally fuelled the decision to ramp up from four to 12 apprentice hires.

“For organisations that don’t have that I can see the mystery of, how would it work? And what would we have to do? And how much time will it take to do that? It could be daunting for people,” she notes.

“That’s something we can all work towards demystifying and help people to see how it works and what the benefits are, because it doesn’t sound like from the [Marketing Week] stats there’s a psychological barrier to the idea of it, it’s more the practicalities.”

While the benefits of hiring apprentices are clear to West, she explains the screening process is important to find individuals with the right potential and attitude, as well as those who are the best fit for the company culture. It is also important to be respectful of the talent you’re investing in.

“I would not expect necessarily to be gaining in the earliest stages of the professional development between the apprentice and the organisation. We have actually and that’s a surprising, happy outcome. But it wasn’t an expectation,” says West.

“The expectation was after six to 13 months you start to see the benefit of the investment you’ve made in the individuals. It came quicker than that, which is why we’ve confidently pushed forward with bringing more people in via this route, because we think it’s a wonderful way to bring in different types of people at different stages in life.”

Last year Marketing Week launched its Opening Up campaign devoted to democratising marketing careers. Click here to read more about the value of apprenticeships and how to explore levy share.

Check out all the latest 2023 Career and Salary Survey content 



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